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EXCLUSIVE: Katie Lowes on Birthing to Paul Simon & the Best Mom Advice Shonda Rhimes Gave Her

Most of us know actor Katie Lowes from her role as Quinn Perkins on Scandal, although we’ve loved her even more since she launched her oh-so honest podcast Katie’s Crib, which has a new episode out today. For some of us, however (ahem, my 4-year-old son), Lowes is known only as the voice of the Badger Doctor in modern animated classic Zootopia.

This was extremely useful informational leverage when I needed to bribe said son to get out of my home office recently so I could manage to interview Lowes (#quarantineproblems, right?) about her Katie’s Crib podcast (co-produced by Shondaland/iHeartRadio), her new Shonda Rhimes project with Netflix, her past life nannying for Connie Britton, and the moment her husband cued up Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” so she could use its sweet sounds to help her push their son Albee out of her vagina. Pretty typical quarantine convo, if you ask me.

SheKnows: I just told my son if he didn’t leave this room I wouldn’t be able to talk to the real-life Badger Doctor lady from Zootopia. He made a beeline out and is creepily listening outside the door.

Katie Lowes: Yes! I’m stoked, I got points with your son! I don’t think I’ve ever played a doctor on TV other than that. That’s it, Mom and Dad! Sorry.

SheKnows: So you’re from Queens! I grew up in the Bronx. How is west coast life treating you? Do you miss NYC? Or just bagels. 

KL: I miss New York so much. But also, it’s weird because I was in New York in my 20s when I was just a broke starving artist, and that was the best. It’s so romanticized in my head, but when you’re 25 and doing off-Broadway and making $200 per week and dating everybody and waitressing… Work keeps calling me back to New York, so we still go all the time. Albee has lived in NYC almost a year of his 2.5 years of life!

SK: And you filmed Shonda Rhimes’ new project Inventing Anna there, right?

KL: It was the best experience ever. We were living in Brooklyn and we were shooting at Steiner Studios, and in your actor contract somebody picks you up and drives you home every day — so it’s not a realistic NYC experience of what it would look like if we lived there. And not in this amazing apartment! In some ways, NYC is an amazing place to raise a kid, and there are a lot of qualities I think about…but it’s hard. In Los Angeles, I’m relieved we’re back here for quarantine. We have a yard! My son scooters all day long outside, we have wide open streets nobody is on. I’m super super grateful. But I miss New York and going to playgrounds and all the kids look really different and all the parents look different. L.A. is a really segregated city, not only in terms of color but also in terms of what people do for a living. We go to the parks here in Studio City and we know everyone; they all work in the industry in some way. It’s not how I grew up, that’s for sure.

SK: Have you brought Albee to any of the Black Lives Matter protests in L.A.?

KL: We drove by and sort of cheered them on, but we haven’t gotten out of the car. Mostly because people are not six feet apart, and their masks aren’t all the way on, and I get freaked out. I do as much as I possibly can from my phone, my wallet, and social media — and talking to Black friends and white friends and family members who don’t understand, sitting on Zoom meetings with other celebs trying to fight the fight. L.A.’s numbers are the worst they’ve ever been, so — not that one’s more important than the other, I actually feel that the protests are more important than coronavirus, but my toddler hates wearing a mask, and that scares the crap out of me.

SK: Understandable. How has quarantine with a toddler been for you, anyway?

KL: You know, I lived two blocks from 9/11 my sophomore year of college, and that was absolutely horrible and bizarre, but this seems to be crazier. I can’t believe I’m saying that; I don’t know if it’s because I have a toddler now or because it’s a global pandemic and a possible civil war? I don’t know. It’s all the things at once, and also it’s so weird, it’s just so many feelings. I do feel more hopeful, I am hoping that this is like some real change, but I’m also hoping that the human race doesn’t all get coronavirus and die. So.

SK: Aren’t we all. What’s been getting you through it? Your recent podcast episodes have been really honest and inspiring.

KL: I am so happy to hear that. Katie’s Crib has been such a blessing to me at this time, not only because I’m a workhorse and I’m an actor and I can’t be around people right now — but because I’m here mothering a toddler, a 2.5-year-old, by myself, and I get to use Katie’s Crib for my most personal needs. Like…can I get an excpert in racism and how to raise anti-racist kids on the show? I get to take it and run with it. And then there’s stuff that we all need no matter what’s going on in the world, like potty-training, and my vagina is falling apart postpartum, anything. Moms in 2020 are still mothering, they need all the basics and then they need to learn about coronavirus and racism. So that’s why I hide in my closet and record it.

SK: How did quarantine treat you as a family? Are you emerging stronger or like a little rough around the edges with weird DIY haircuts? Or both?

KL: We look horrible. I mean, I keep saying I hope they’re going to give us a month warning to go back to shooting! I just need to dye my hair, fix my nails, shave my legs…it’s a disaster. But I think our family connection is deeper than ever. I’ve never been home for this long, I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom for this long. I went back to work when Albee was eight weeks old, on Scandal. Sure, I have lost my mind a couple times, there have been moments when he wakes up from his nap where I’m begging to the gods just to let him lie there for another 15 minutes, because I can’t even see him right now. It’s exhausting and it involves a level of patience and calmness I’m not used to.

Screen time limits got thrown out awhile ago, and now it’s just completely over because of quarantine. Glennon Doyle is coming on my podcast, and she told me “the only thing kids remember is the last thing of the day.” So I try to make the last 15 minutes a nice book and some nice conversation and nice eye contact and nice telling him how much I love him. They know they’re loved, they’re fed…we’re making them feel as safe as they can during a global pandemic and what’s going on. Other than that, have an iPad sesh.

SK: Have you been keeping up with the news, or trying to avoid it for sanity’s sake?

KL: Right now, things are so stressful, there are a lot of times I want to get lost in my phone and in current events on the TV — and I can’t do that and also care for my son. There are a lot of hours in the day where I have to choose, and I have to focus on him. I’m thankful I have a partner who’s really involved.

SK: That makes a huge difference. I’m a single mom and hiring babysitters mid-quarantine has been a whole struggle.

KL: I can’t believe you’re doing this by yourself right now, this is gnarly. And what would you do if you couldn’t afford childcare? It makes you feel like less of a woman. The first two months of quarantine I was calling my grandmother in tears, like, “I don’t know how you raised four kids by yourself in a skirt and high heels, and you put out pot roast by 5pm every day and you ironed the sheets and my grandad’s underwear. I’m barely surviving and I can’t keep up with the housework; I look like a cavewoman.” And I only have one kid, not four! I’m not entertaining! I’m not doing pot roast!

SK: It’s nuts, the standards that are set for mothers. And your character on Scandal becomes a mom eventually, too.

KL: On Scandal, in the end, I did give birth to a kid, but I don’t think there were many scenes showing Quinn mothering. I had always dreamed, like, Am I going to get to wear the baby on a Bjorn while I’m torturing someone?! Am I gonna be bouncing the baby on a ball? That never happened and would be a terrible message of violence. But Shonda always says there’s no such thing as having it all. There’s no such thing as being 100% career and 100% a mom. Any day I’m being the best writer I can be I’m missing my kid’s piano recital. The day I’m tucking him to bed, I’m missing one of Sandra Oh’s last days on Grey’s. You’re making sacrifices to do it all, and I don’t think it’s possible to give your all to all things. You have to make choices. On my podcast, America Ferrera told me about bringing her kid to her own dentist’s office just to say she was spending time with him that day; meanwhile the nanny is walking around the block with him while she’s getting her teeth cleaned. She was like, this is ridiculous, I need to let it go.

SK: Do you have to deal with the ubiquitous social media mom-shamers? How do you respond?

KL: “GO AWAY.” People come at us, but we got in on the social media game so early on Scandal because we were the first show that really live-tweeted every episode. And I learned, ohhh there could be 100 nice things said and if one person says a bad thing it’s the only thing I think about for a week. So I don’t read comments. I post things, and I really try, I check in and see how many likes it got which is sad, but it’s just what we do. I went through the Hillary campaign posting and getting death threats and campaigning around the country for her. So I don’t listen there.

SK: How did you choose your son’s name? Please tell me Edward Albee.

KL: Yes! We’re huge theater nerds, but he’s actually named after two Alberts, plus Grandma Edna and Grandma Elsie. One grandpa is an Albert, and a great-uncle is an Albert who’s like a grandfather figure to us. Edward Albee we absolutely love, and we’re theater dorks. Also he was born to “Call Me Al,” my husband cued it up perfectly as soon as I was cuing him out of my vagina.

SK: And you used to work as a nanny for Connie Britton? I used to run into her all the time here in Nashville. Yoby is the sweetest boy! Aside from, you know, my boy and your boy.

KL: Aside from them! Yoby is so sweet. I just ran into them two weeks ago… Connie, I was with them when Yoby was brand new, like maybe 1. I used to babysit for the Disney Animation casting director Jamie Roberts as well, so she’d have me do a line here and there. I read to kids in the hospital for this organization called Lollipop Theater Network where celebs come in and read books to the kids; they have no idea who I am until they’re like “YOU HAVE A LINE IN FROZEN?”

SK: And Zootopia! Tell me about what you’re working on with Shonda Rhimes, Inventing Anna.

KL: It’s soooo good. This one is SO good. I just feel like, it’s cable, and she’s gotten to really let loose. And it’s this incredible New York story about this woman Anna Delvey, this 25-year-old Russian girl who moved to NYC and told everyone she was a German heiress worth millions of dollars and conned friends around a ton of money — and now she’s in jail for fraud. It’s such an American dream gone wrong story, and it’s so fascinating. It’s the first time I’ve ever played a real-life person; it’s very bizarre because I can look at her on Instagram, I can look up Rachel and see what she was like. I studied her for awhile, and then I backed off to make my own version. I have not communicated with her at all, but she does a lot of press and I’ve been able to see a lot of what she does. Laverne Cox plays our personal trainer, Kacy Duke, Anna Chlumsky is playing the journalist covering the story. It was just so cool to shoot in New York.

SK: And it’s Netflix!

KL: Right, now we’re not used to waiting a week [for a new episode]. I can crush three episodes of Normal People in a night, I loved it. I loved Little Fires Everywhere, and now I really need to get into the second season of Dead to Me.

SK: An absolute gem. That combination of humor and murder is really what we need.

KL: We need that right now. I watched Waco, and that was a horrible mistake. It was too dark. It’s so beautifully done, but very anxiety-provoking. And we don’t need any more of that. Because raising our kids in this situation is completely unprecedented. Even the Poop Lady — Jamie Glowacki of Oh Crap! Potty Training — I was talking to her about potty training Albee, and Jamie said in all her clients right now are seeing such stress, even parents who are doing a good job keeping stress out, it’s still overall affecting everybody. And that includes kids feeling chill enough to poop on the potty. We are so isolated and we can’t hang on the playground and bitch and have a huge glass of wine while our kids rip each other apart, and that sucks… I know I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t laugh.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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